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Propose new solutions and promote new policies for the sustainable renovation of social and affordable housing units in the European Union.
  • Integrated Urban Development Physical Urban Development

Housing is a priority area for European energy efficiency, not only because it consumes a high volume of energy, but it is also an area where huge improvements could be made. Although contribution of housing to carbon dioxide emissions is high and growing, many residents still cannot access affordable, “clean” energy, and practices remain inefficient. Technologies have been developed that could drastically reduce energy use in housing, but take- up is slow, and much of the related business potential remains untapped. In line with European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive 2010/31/EU (EPBD), and other EU initiatives like the Energy Efficiency Directive of 22 June 2011, the URBACT project CASH set out to help reduce the energy consumption of buildings and their occupants. Over three years, CASH’s 11 partners focused on improving the energy efficiency of social and affordable housing, proposing new solutions and promoting new policies for sustainable renovation. They also aimed to influence users’ behaviour through citizens’ involvement

Main results

Because the high technical potential for making energy savings in housing was not being fulfilled, CASH’s partners understood there were other factors to take into account, some of them complicated, and some emotional. One is the question of identity, where housing type can play a strong role for cities, neighbourhoods and even individual families. Others concern quality of life and living costs. Unfortunately, the most afford- able housing is often of the poorest quality, especially in countries where there is no governmental system for social housing. Renovation costs for individual households have to be affordable, with acceptable costs for the house owners too.
Integrated Green Renovation of Social Housing: A Guide for Cities

The 11 partners in the URBACT project CASH combined their own experiences with input from experts to produce a guide on the inte- grated energy efficient renovation of social housing, with advice for greater EU support. The partners also took these findings back to their own Local Support Groups, where they fed into the Local Action Plans. Here is a selection of their concrete suggestions.

1) Technological Developments for Energy Efficient Renovation

Technological possibilities are developing fast, and not always used in the most effec- tive way. How to tackle energy refurbish- ment of social housing in cities:

  • Make a survey of the heat energy demand (heating and domestic hot water);
  • Look for potentials of reducing demand (through insulation, water saving devices, etc.);
  • Calculate the differences between heating systems (boiler only, boiler and Combined Heat and Power, heat pump, biomass heating systems such as stoves or boilers, district heating), comparing not only acquisition, installation and maintenance costs, but fuel dependency and emissions (CO2 and others). Keep in mind that prices for different fuels may develop differently in the future;
  • Make a long term calculation (15-20 years). To avoid ad hoc decision making, social landlords and house owners should make a structural renovation plan, covering technical, social and economic and environmental aspects. Choices should take into account grey (hidden) energy, including energy required in transporting and recycling materials and technology at the end of their life cycle.

2) Legal Framework for Green Housing Support: National, International and Local

  • Create local clusters on green social housing. These can cover the whole supply chain of energy efficient renovation, from supplier, planners, architects via installer, to users. In such a cluster quality management can be developed, using energy labelling;
  • Flexible mechanism for rents adapted to local context (deprived neighbourhoods) and a form of protection from rent increase for existing social rents should be ensured;
  • In countries with little or no social housing, individual owners are responsible for renovation. Legislation on co-properties and condo- miniums can stimulate this. In some countries individual owners are obliged to form an association and build a fund for long term maintenance. Regulations should then also cover how the decision making process will be organised.

3) Financial Instruments: Energy, Living Environment, Maintenance and Integration

  • National and regional revolving funds (supported by additional fees on rent or energy bills) can be an important instrument, favouring long-term and large-scale projects;
  • Independent third-parties should be created or supported to manage technical, financial and organisational aspects and monitor the measures. They could act as a facilitator between landlords/owners of the housing units and tenants. These could be local or regional foundations, energy companies or tenants’ organisations;
  • All calculations should include running costs for water, electricity and waste -“the second rent”;
  • European funds such as the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) should not only be provided for energy measures, but should also be focused on social housing with an integrated approach covering energy, living environment, maintenance and integration.

4) Get Citizens Involved in Urban Climate Policy

Urban climate policy can only be effective with citizen participation, for three main reasons: (1) much energy can be saved in housing using not only technical measures, but also behavioural change; (2) behavioural change is also vital for many technical energy efficiency measures to work; and (3) “investment-behaviour ”: the choice to invest in buying energy efficient household appliances depends on the public’s knowledge and awareness.

It is important to involve citizens at all stages of a policy: use a mixture of innovative tools favouring exchanges between all stake- holders, such as independent energy advi- sors, trained champions, and ambassadors of energy trained to change behaviour and atti- tudes and make citizens aware of the benefits of energy efficiency renovation.

5) Use Strategic Planning for Energy Production and Distribution

Use strategic energy planning to choose the most suitable energy scenario, and energy sources, for a given city. Strategic energy planning should cover all buildings in the city, including houses, independent of ownership or the existence of a social housing system. (Naturally, the possible measures and actions will vary considerably.)

  • Diversification with several green energy sources is important and should be encouraged;
  • Green Combined Heat Power cogeneration should be promoted. A flexible and effi- cient method for energy transformation, it offers tremendous efficiency and cost savings and can be implemented by energy companies, social land lords, tenants associa- tions or associations of private owners;
  • House owners or communities of tenants can be involved in the production and distribution of renewable energy to keep transport lines short and fixed costs low;
  • Social housing building blocks and areas may be the nucleus of local energy distribu- tion grids, giving better conditions for the implementation of cogeneration units and transforming the supply from fossil fuels to renewables.

6) Tips for Managing Social Housing Energy Efficient Renovation Projects

It is essential to ensure the adequate partici- pation of all actors in energy renovation and to develop synergies between them:

  • Use a systematic approach of energy efficient renovation integrating social, political, environmental, legal and financial components and competences;
  • Set up an independent project management body;
  • Involve as many strategic stakeholders as possible in the planning phase;
  • Take into account the stakeholders’ varying timescales and ensure actions in line with various needs;
  • Match the funding schemes with the project’s timeframe and allow adjustments according to the project evolution;
  • Provide the end users with project details at each stage to increase transparency and improve public consultation;
  • National policy framework must support, or at least allow, local actions; influence by local actors should be possible.

Nine Policy Recommendations to Help EU Decision- Makers and Managing Authorities Make the Best Use of Structural Funds for Sustainable Social Housing

Drawing on local solutions, CASH worked closely with CECODHAS Housing Europe (the European Federation of Public, Cooperative and Social Housing) to build a series of policy recommendations for EU decision-makers and Managing Authorities. The resulting brochure of “9 Policy Recommendations” features four sections that reflect what CASH describes as the “ingredients of success” for a programme of Cities’ Action for Social Housing.

Better monitor local need and resources and favour local green energy mix 

  1. Adapt the energy production systems to the local specificities and favour green solutions
  2. Make affordable housing the core of local energy production and distribu- tion grids
  3. Strengthen the local human capital

Dare citizens’ empowerment and participation of civil society

  1. Strengthen the participatory approach within the cohesion policy
  2. Use EU funds to enable the participation of tenants in all stages of sustainability programmes in the field of social housing

Provide clear and stable financial options

  1. Set up long-term, large-scale energy efficiency funds accessible at local
  2. Create intermediary bodies that will coordinate energy efficiency programmes and help social housing deal with energy companies

Strengthen the skills of local authorities

  1. Use EU Structural Funds to provide technical assistance to develop long- term sustainable social housing programmes
  2. Create local clusters on sustainable social housing


In cities across the CASH partnership, Local Action Plans are starting to be followed, ways of working have been improved, and lasting relationships forged. Rhône-Alpes, for example, is strengthening working relations with various local partners. For Echirolles, systematic asset management has become a priority. Frankfurt is planning the develop- ment of a refurbishment roadmap for the whole housing stock. The situation and necessary renovation of all houses in the city are being analysed and will form the basis of a renovation plan.

As a direct consequence of CASH, Les Mureaux has officially launched the Seine Aval Platform for Energy Efficiency, a completely new concept of taskforce and an innovative process for education and training, research and communication on energy efficiency.

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